A Bibliography of major literary treatments

of the Franklin expedition

compiled by Russell A. Potter

Last updated: December 1. 2021

There have been well over a dozen poems about Franklin of substantial length (including a powerful elegy by Swinburne and Tennyson's famous "No Earthly Pole"), as well as at least a dozen novels, running from Franklin's day to the present. I have written a novel myself with a strong Franklin thread in it, with the working title Dead Reckoning. No doubt there will be many more literary echoes in the future, as the bones of Franklin continue to stick in the maw of "civilization." For those who would like to look further, here is a very brief listing of the principle books inspired by Franklin.

(in chronological order)

1. Early treatments (pre-1900)

"Seldon, William N." The extraordinary and all-absorbing journal of Wm. N. Seldon one of a party of three men who belonged to the exploring expedition of Sir John Franklin, and who left the ship Terror, frozen up in ice, in the Arctic ocean, on the 10th day of June, 1850 ... together with an account of the discovery of new and beautiful country, inhabited by a strange race of people ... (Detroit, Mich.: E.E. Barclay, 1851)

Abrahall, Chandos Hoskyns. Arctic enterprise A poem, in seven parts. By Chandos Hoskyns Abrahall. London: Hope, 1856.

Parsons, James, of North Shields. Reflections on the mysterious fate of Sir John Franklin. London: N.P., 1857.

Turner, Joseph Addison. The Discovery of Sir John Franklin, and other poems. Mobile and New York: N.P., 1858.

Blackmore, R. B. (Richard Doddridge) 1825-1900. The fate of Franklin, by Richard Doddridge Blackmore. London: R. Hardwicke, 1860.

Vidal, Owen Alexander. A Poem upon the life and character of Sir John Franklin, with special reference to time, place, and discovery of his death: recited in the Sheldonian Theatre, Monday, July 2, at the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Oxford: T. and G. Shrimpton, 1860.

Swinburne, Algernon Charles, "The Death of Sir John Franklin" (1860).

Brodie, Erasmus Henry. Euthanasia: a poem in four cantos of Spenserian metre on the Discovery of the North-West Passage by Sir John Franklin. (A Song of Christmas.) London: Longmans & Co, 1866.

Verne, Jules, The English at the Pole. By Jules Verne. London and New York: George Routledge and Sons, 1875.

-----. The Field of Ice. By Jules Verne. London and New York: George Routledge and Sons, 1875.

2. Twentieth- and Twenty-first Century Treatments

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. London, 1902. Said to be in part inspired by Conrad's youthful interest in the Franklin saga; contains an allusion to Franklin and other "knights-errant of the sea."

Oxley, James Macdonald. North overland with Franklin. (London: Musson, N.D.)

Cato, Nancy. North-West by south. London : Heinemann, 1965. This novel by an Australian writer centers on Franklin's years as Governor of Tasmania.

Tapley, Caroline. John come down the backstay. (New York: Atheneum,1974).

MacEwen, Gwendolyn. Afterworlds. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1987. This is the first book-form publication of MacEwen's poem "Terror and Erebus," which was originally a radio play written for broadcast by the CBC on its programme "Sunday Night" in 1965.

Godfrey, Martyn. Mystery in the frozen lands. (Toronto: J. Lorimer, 1988)

Richler, Mordecai. Solomon Gursky Was Here. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990. A Franklin twist, with a dash of Owen Beattie -- another frozen body from the Franklin expedition is discovered -- and this one is an Orthdox Jew! Richler explains the how and why in this mythic mock-epic.

Edric, Robert. The Broken Lands. (London: J. Cape, 1992; New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, 2002).

Vollmann, William T. The Rifles. New York: Viking Books, 1994. Book Six of Vollmann's ambitious "Seven Dreams" novel series, this tale interweaves a retelling of the Franklin disaster with contemporary events and Inuit history, including the story of the RCMP's relocation of the "High Arctic Exiles."

Wiebe, Rudy. A Discovery of Strangers. Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 1994. Wiebe takes a novelist's look at Franklin's first land expedition, in a meticulously researched and lyrically retold version that brings the history of the Dene people into the foreground.

Atwood, Margaret: Strange Things: The Malevolent North in Canadian Literature. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995. A collection of Atwood's "Clarendon Lectures" at Oxford, it opens with "Concerning Franklin and his Gallant Crew" -- a witty and synthetic tour through the impress that Franklin's saga left on Canadian literature, including MacEwen, Richler, Wiebe, and the late folk singer Stan Rogers.

Nickerson, Sheila, Disappearance: A Map. New York: Doubleday, 1996. Nickerson, an Alakskan poet and journalist, uses the Franklin narrative as the centerpiece of a meditation on loss "in the high latitudes." Beautifully written, though it repeats a number of erroneous old chestnuts about Franklin.

Wilson, John. Across Frozen Seas. Beach Holme Books, 1997 (young adult novel)

Nadolny, Sten. The Discovery of Slowness. NY: Penguin Books, 1997 (repr. of 1987 Viking edition, translated by Ralph Freeman; originally published as Die Entdeckung der Langsamkeit in 1983).

Hopkins, Brian A., Cold at Heart. Starlance Publications, 1998.

Barrett, Andrea. The Voyage of the Narwhal. W.W. Norton, 1998.

Wilson, John. North With Franklin: The Journal of James Fitzjames Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1999.

McGregor, Elizabeth. The Ice Child. New York: Dutton,2001.

Solway, David. Franklin's Passage. Montréal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2003. The first major poetic treatment of the Franklin saga since MacEwen's in 1965, this book was awarded the 36th annual Grand Prix du Livre by the City of Montréal.

Simpson, Lindsay. The Curer of Souls. Random House Australia, 2006.

Hieghton, Steven. Afterlands. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. This novel, loosely based on Charles Francis Hall's Polaris expedition, has been praised by Kenn Harper, who wrote "The Polaris story lay untouched for over a century until a few years ago, fertile ground for historians and novelists. This is by far the most compelling treatment of it to date."

Simmons, Dan. The Terror. Boston: Little, Brown, 2007.

Flanagan, Richard. Wanting. Random House Australia, 2008; Atlantic Monthly Press, 2009.

Cussler, Clive. Arctic Drift (A Dirk Pitt Novel, #20). New York: Putnam, 2008.

Fortier, Dominique. De Bon Usage des Étoiles. Montréal: Alto: 2008. Published in English as On the Proper Use of Stars by McClelland and Stewart in 2010.

Edge, Arabella. Fields of Ice. NY: Picador USA: 2011.

Wilson, John. Graves of Ice: The Lost Franklin Expedition. Toronto: Scholastic Canada: 2014.

Wilson, John. Lost (Orca Currents). Vacouver: Orca Book Publishers: 2016.

O'Louglin, Ed. Minds of Winter London: riverrun, 2016.

Macallister, Greer. The Arctic Fury Sourcebooks Landmark, 2020.

Pierce, Nicola. Chasing Ghosts: An Arctic Adventure The O'Brien Press, 2020.